Jul 13, 2007

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore is the story of two characters, who we follow in alternating chapters: a 15-year-old boy who calls himself Kafka Tamuta, and who decides to run away from home on his birthday; and a man in his sixties, Nakata. Nakata experienced a very strange accident during WW2, when he was only 9 years old, after which he lost his memory, the ability to read and write, and became, in his own words, “dumb”. He gained, however, some very unusual abilities in return.

This story begins realistically enough: a boy decides to run away from home, and so he takes the night bus from Tokyo to Takamatsu, a small town where he has no friends or relatives, and where, thus, he is not likely to be looked for. Soon enough, though, the reader is confronted with a series of surreal events: cats speak, fish and leeches rain down, spirits walk about, prophecies are made, and entrances to other worlds are opened. And there are appearances by popular culture icons like Johnny Walker or Colonel Sanders (the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo guy, in case anyone is wondering).

There was something about this book that reminded me slightly of Neil Gaiman's American God. The use of these two last figures helped, but there’s something else, something about the mood of the book that I can't quite pinpoint.

As the story advances, a lot of questions are raised, and we realize that there is a connection between the boy Kafka and the man Nakata. However, not all the questions are answered at the end. At some point in the book, one of the characters says:
I went all over Japan interviewing people who’d survived lightening strikes. It took me a few years. Most of the interviews were pretty interesting. A small publisher put it out, but it barely sold. The book didn’t come to any conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have one. For me, thought, having no conclusion seemed perfectly fine.
This made me smile, because it so obviously applies to Murakami’s books. Not that they have no resolution, but, like I said, there are many questions that linger. This got me thinking that in a way his books are a little like songs. A song doesn’t necessarily have to make sense – in fact, more often than not, the concept of “sense” doesn’t even apply to music. Its realm is not that of logic. And yet, it still moves us, it still makes us experience a myriad of emotions; it still has power over us. The same can be said, to some extent, of Murakami’s novels. They don’t always make sense, but they still resonate within me. And music is very often mentioned in this book. For an interesting take on the relationship between Murakami and music, read this post by Dark Orpheus.

Books are another thing that is very important in this novel. Kafka is an avid reader, and this drew me to him immediately. There is a delightful library where Kafka ends up working and where many important scenes take place. And there are a lot of books that are mentioned or quoted throughout the story.

A little warning that perhaps not everyone will find relevant – this book contains a very disturbing scene involving cats. I am a cat lover, but more than that, I am a person who is extremely disturbed by any violence towards animals, especially cats. It’s the kind of stuff that haunts me and seriously gives me nightmares. There is a horrifying scene in this book, and I know that the emotional effect it had on me is exactly what Murakami was trying to achieve, but it was still very painful for me to read. It’s a scene I sincerely hope to forget. I’m not saying that this scene should keep anyone from reading the book, but I think it’s good to be prepared for it.

I really liked this book. It had a very unique mood, interesting and memorable characters, and it was a story I responded to emotionally, even if I’m not sure I completely made sense of it. I will certainly be reading more of Murakami’s work in the future.

Other Blog Reviews:
Bombastic Bagman
In Spring it is the Dawn
Dolce Bellezza
My Own Little Reading Room
Trish's Reading Nook
Tip of the Iceberg
Books of Mee

I was planning on reading The Remains of the Day after this book. Today, however, I had to go out, and finished the book on the train, which left me facing a 1:15min train ride back with nothing to read. I went to a bookstore and found a Dover edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles for a little over 2 euros. Having read Literary Feline’s review of this book just the other day, I decided to pick it up. I’m enjoying it quite a lot so far. I wasn’t planning on reading Sherlock Holmes this summer, but hey, I’ll just go where my reading takes me.


  1. Damn it! I had this book in my hands at the bookstore the other day and put it back on the bookshelf...Why? I have no idea...should've bought it. It sounded so intriguing. I'll have to go back for it.

    Don't you love those Dover editions? Dover's a wonderful thing with their 2 dollar books :D

  2. I like what you wrote about music don't have to make sense. I find it difficult to write about music I love, because it's such a visceral process that speaks more to the unconscious side of us than our rational mind.

    But then again, Murakami's books often have this fantastic element, like you're working on the unconscious. Like a dream. Maybe because he approaches book writing like music.

  3. I've had this on my tentative list for the Book Awards Challenge ever since I read JP's review. I'm a bit put off by the description of the cat scene (I'm no good with violence, especially against animals) but I think I'll hang in there.

  4. Chris: do go back and get it! It IS very intriguing, and the thing is, it remains intriguing even after you're done reading it :P But that's part of its charm.

    And yes, I love Dover editions!

    Dark Orpheus: I find it difficult to write about music for those same reasons. Music is as important for me as books, but I would never have a music blog. I have a very hard time articulate my feelings about music.

    Kim: I really understand your reluctance, and it was a very hard scene for me to read, but I would definitely say that the book is worth reading despite it.

  5. I really want to read this one, so many people recommend it. I love the cover as well (yes I am a notorious judge book by it's cover person), the cat looks like Merlin.

    I am starting to make a list of books I want for my birthday in a couple of months, will add this one.

  6. Wonderful review, Nymeth! I finally broke down and got a copy of this book after hearing so many people talking about it. A couple of fellow readers recently were so cryptic about it though when they found out I got a copy. I don't like spoilers, but I do like a little information (which you provided just fine--giving me a feel for what to expect without giving away much)!

    And thank you for the warning about the cats.

  7. Rhinoa: I love the cover as well. Covers with cats normally draw me, but this one is a particularly nice picture. I'd love to know what you make of this book when you read it. I think it's one of those that different readers have different reactions to.

    Literary Feline: Thank you! I'm glad you found my review helpful. I also like having a little information on the books before I start reading them. I look forward to your review of this.

  8. *sigh* You write such good reviews! I just finished "After Dark" by the same author, I haven't written down my thoughts on it yet, but I will. "Kafka on The Shore" sounds really good, I will have to pick it up.

  9. i enjoyed your review and i'm happy that you enjoyed it!

    and i'm glad i'm not the only one who didn't quite make sense of it. as one suspects, however, the book does linger. its been floating in my mind ever since and some threads... i don't know, they don't necessarily make more sense, but their meaning becomes clearer.

    i agree with you about the cat scene. i was horrified. i actually forgot about it because i'd banished it from my mind...

    and you're right, i don't know why i hadn't thought of it - his books are like music!

  10. Lotus: Aw, thank you :) I look forward to reading your thoughts on "After Dark".

    Jean Pierre: I think the book will probably make more sense after a few re-reads, but I don't know, I think it achieved its goal even without fully making sense.

    That's what I hope to achieve in time - banish that scene from my mind.

  11. I haven't read this one yet but I always come away from a Murakami book feeling like I didn't quite 'get' it but thoroughly enjoying it all the same. I want to read some of his short stories next but will get to this one eventually.

  12. I think almost everyone experiences that when reading his book. I admire him for being able to keep things ambiguous and not frustrating the readers immensely at the same time.

  13. Oh dear. I ususually don't read/re-read reviews until I've written down my own thoughts, but I'm so lost on this one and was hoping that you had read it (which you have) and could enlighten me. Not reconfirm that there are still so many questions lingering. :P You're not helping!! I liked this one a lot, but when I finished last night I felt really unsettled. Once Nakata and Miss Saiki have their moment, I was lost the entire rest of the novel (well, I get it, but I think I'm missing a lot of the bigger picture with the "thing" that was coming out of Nakata's mouth and the entrance stone and it's implications etc etc). Maybe I'm not supposed to get it. :(

    The part about the cats really disturbed me as well. I read that chapter in my car before coming up to work and I had to immediately go over to Laura's cube and tell her that really really bad things were happening to cats (I didn't fill her in all the details); it really bothered me.

    Ok, off to think more about the book!!

  14. Trish: lol, sorry :P Was this your first Murakami? I think that already being familiar with his very particular brand of weirdness influenced my reaction to this book quite a bit. I still remember feeling lost and frustrated when I finished Sputnik Sweetheart years ago! But then I learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride when it comes to his books. Rationally they still don't make sense to me, but I find them very emotionally satisfying still.

    The scene with the cats has unfortunately not faded in my memory at all :( I was so upset when I read it.

  15. This is just a test. I don't see that my comment posted and I wasn't paying enough attention to notice if it needs owner approval first!

  16. Looks like it was just me. Maybe I didn't actually post my previous comment. Silly me!

    I just wanted to let you know that I linked to your review here.

    The more I read Murakami, the more I like his writing. I don't necessarily understand it any better, but I like it!


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